n SA Crime Quarterly - Anger, hatred, or just heartlessness? Defining gratuitous violence

Volume 2010, Issue 34
  • ISSN : 1991-3877



Violent crime in South Africa is sometimes said to be unusual, because it is perceived to frequently be gratuitous. This article engages with the question of how to define gratuitous violence. If the term gratuitous is understood to mean 'for nothing', gratuitous violence should be understood as violence that is 'low on expressive and instrumental motivations'. Whilst the evidence is that much violence is 'instrumental', violence in South Africa may be unusual but it may be better to articulate this in terms of the concepts both of 'expressive' and gratuitous violence. Gratuitous violence and the apparent cruelty that characterises some acts of instrumental violence also appear to imply that 'empathy deficits' might be a characteristic of many perpetrators of violence.

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